ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Black high school seniors use drugs and drink less frequently than white high school seniors, thanks to the anti-drug message taught in black churches, according to a University of Michigan study due for release today.
Nearly 80 percent of the black students surveyed said religion played an important or very important role in their lives, compared with 50 percent of whites, said Jerald Bachman, a social scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
Those strong ties to churches, more than the presence of parents in the home, region or urban density, appear to influence students to say no to drugs, he said.
"There is a phenomena in the black church that says don't use drugs," said Bachman, who studied 70,000 seniors in 135 high schools nationwide in 1985-89. Blacks and whites were the two largest populations surveyed. Bachman said high school dropouts were not included in the study, but said national studies showed a large majority of all racial groups stayed in school and that dropout rates for blacks were falling.
The National Center for Educational Statistics found in October 1988 that dropout rates averaged 16 percent for white males and 21.8 percent for black males, Bachman said. The rate was 12.5 percent for white females, 15.2 percent for black females.
The dropout rate for 1985-89 in Detroit Public Schools, which are predominantly black, was 39 percent, according to school figures.
The Rev. Keith Butler, pastor of the 5,000-member Word of Faith Christian Center on Detroit's east side and a member of the City Council, said he was ecstatic over the findings.
"With a study of that size, there can be no dispute that we are winning the war on drugs," said Butler, whose church runs the 251-student Faith Christian Academy.
The Rev. James Holley, pastor of the 4,000-member Little Rock Baptist Church in Detroit, said the study "encourages us to the point that we need to do more until we get rid of drugs, period. Our young people see what drugs have done to our community."
The study found American Indians had the highest rates of marijuana and cocaine use, according to the percentage of high school seniors using a substance in 12 months. White seniors had the highest rates for alcohol.
Hispanic Americans had intermediate levels of use for most substances, Asian Americans had the lowest rates, and blacks had levels nearly as low in most cases.
Katie Correll-Vandermissen, an Indian outreach worker in the Department of Social Services in the Upper Peninsula's Menominee County, said the results were not surprising.
"Students of all ages are torn between living in this day and age and this culture, this world, and still being taught their traditional cultures.
"It's a very drastic change for the American Indian to adapt. It's easy to slip into a circle of despair."